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Branding Wars: Sports Marketing Pros Give Their Picks for Best NY6 School Brands

Each of the NY6 schools have done great work over the years building their respective brands — but which program does it better?

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Photo credit: NY6

The six biggest college football bowl games of the year, which fall around the start of the New Year, are known as the New Year’s Six — or NY6 — for short. In recent years, these games have also become home to the College Football Playoff Semifinals on top of being high-profile matchups between several of the nation’s top programs.

The winners will ultimately be decided on December 29 and January 1 in what will hopefully be entertaining games. In the buildup, football experts will give their picks for who they believe will turn in a stronger day on the field. Each of these programs have done great work over the years building their respective brands when it comes to how fans, recruits, and media members perceive the program — but which program does it better?

Using the matchups from this year’s games, branding experts from around the sports world discussed who they think wins in a battle of the brands. 

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta): Michigan vs. Florida

Ashley DeWalt – Founder, Managing Principal of LVRG Sports: “I’m going with Michigan here based on the quality of content across their social channels leading up to the bowl game. They are really doing a great job of highlighting their program accolades right now.”

David Meltzer – CEO and Co-Founder, Sports 1 Marketing: “Between the two, I’m definitely choosing Michigan, especially considering Florida’s head-coach carousel in recent years. While it pains me to admit as an Ohio State fan, Harbaugh leveraged the “M” brand to new heights with the way he carries himself as a coach and how he recruits. While Michigan may not have achieved some of the successes of his Stanford teams, Harbaugh is helping to expand the attention on Michigan football among sports fans far and wide. And with the retirement of Urban Meyer, there is even more opportunity for Harbaugh to seize.”

Christopher Stoney – Creative Director, Alliance of American Football: “I’m going to give it to the Gators. I think what Kelly Streeter has done at Florida just absolutely captures what it’s like to be at the swamp. Their creative team does a beautiful job with the black and white, along with using orange and blue highlights — a color scheme that just absolutely jumps off to me — and they’ve done a really good job incorporating these triangles, which are kind of meant to emulate the look of the gator teeth and the scales. I love what they’re doing.”

Geoffrey Blosat – Sports Operations Analyst, Zoomph: “Michigan over Florida. Bigger coach, bigger story in the news week after week, and bigger presence online.”

Capital One Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.): Alabama vs. Oklahoma

DeWalt: “Between these two, it’s a toss-up from a branding perspective. Both programs create engaging content across their respective social channels. However, leading up to the Orange Bowl, I’m going to pick the Sooners because they have a lot of momentum from all the success their program is achieving, whether it’s the coach, individual player or team. No doubt, the Sooners’ creative team is really pushing great content across their digital and social channels while ensuring the brand messaging is consistent.”

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Alabama. Traditionally speaking, it’s easy to make the argument that the University of Oklahoma is one of the biggest and most storied brands in college sports history and has had back-to-back Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to support that. Nick Saban has completely changed the perception of Alabama football in recent years, however, as a football factory chock-full of top recruits and as a perennial national-title contender during his tenure.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Oklahoma. When I look through their content, I see plenty of scroll-stopping things that I just absolutely love. ‘Boomer Sooner’ is strong. Alabama is great too, but Oklahoma is going to edge them out just barely in this instance.”

Blosat: “Alabama over Oklahoma. A decade of dominance as a team, combined with how #RollTide is just embedded into every football fan’s mind, beats the school with the last two Heisman winners.”

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Arlington, Tex.): Clemson vs. Notre Dame

DeWalt: “My pick is Clemson. The creative team at Clemson is one of the best, if not the best, in college football. The content they are putting out is awesome. However, I do like the fact that Notre Dame is showing what they’re doing in the community for kids with their Christmas shopping event through their social channels, despite preparing for a huge bowl game.”

Meltzer: “Notre Dame. While Clemson has been extremely successful in recent years thanks to the leadership of Dabo Swinney, Notre Dame possesses, arguably, one of the strongest brands in college sports. Thriving as an independent school, Notre Dame has a historic legacy of success, combined with the attention of Catholics worldwide. That makes their brand unique in college football, as well as the leadership of Brian Kelly.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Notre Dame. I think Clemson is probably the top of the list for almost everybody, but the reason I’m picking Notre Dame is that the school is probably one of the harder brands to design for and to build a brand around because they’re such a traditional school with so many traditional values. To build a brand around an old-school tradition is really hard to do, and I think that they’ve absolutely done that. When I see anything from Notre Dame, it feels very ‘Notre Dame.'”

Blosat: “Notre Dame over Clemson. As powerful as Clemson is, Notre Dame has the legacy factor. While Clemson has arguably a stronger digital brand and social presence, as a brand, ND comes out on top.”

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.): UCF vs. LSU

DeWalt: “I’m going with LSU on this one based upon the sheer amount of players they are able to highlight right now in the NFL. Their program is doing a great job of highlighting this leading up the bowl game.”

Meltzer: “While UCF is another fast-rising brand, it is hard to argue against the SEC powerhouse that is LSU. LSU’s fanbase is rabid (and blows UCF attendance numbers out of the water), their roster is full of future NFL talent, and the brand dominates the state of Louisiana, not facing the competition that UCF faces from other top programs such as Florida and Florida State.”

Stoney: “I am going to have to give it to the Knights. Their history is very recent, so there’s nothing to really draw on in terms of building a traditional branding look. And so the Knights have instead embraced that with a new look and a new culture, a new Nike contract — and they’ve just taken all that and run with it. Gold and black are also some tough colors to work with and they’ve crafted them into a beautiful, creative, eye-catching look.”

Blosat: “LSU over UCF. Two words: Coach O. While UCF has made a great case over the last two years, until they get more nationally televised games, they’ll be a step behind the big schools regardless of the wins and quality tweets.”

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (Pasadena, Calif.): Ohio State vs. Washington

DeWalt: “Ohio State is my pick on this. They have one of the most consistent brands and messaging in college football, and have been creating compelling content to engage their fans for years now.”

Meltzer: “Ohio State definitely has a bigger brand; they call it ‘The Ohio State’ for a reason. Although there has been some scandals associated with the school in recent years, Ohio State always ranks among the top schools in attendance and is perennially a Big Ten championship contender. Combining that with the talent OSU sends to the NFL and a massive alumni base, Ohio State is one of the most consistently strong brands in college football.”

Stoney: “Sam Silverman at Ohio State is just at the top of his game. There’s nobody doing it better than Ohio State right now in terms of having an old-school tradition. And I think Ohio State is probably leading the pack in their charge. It’s unbelievable how creative and fun they’ve been with their typograhy and their numbers.”

Blosat: “Ohio State over Washington. Unless it’s USC, any Pac-12 school will struggle in a brand-vs.-brand matchup, especially against a Big Ten powerhouse and perennial title contender with a polarizing coach.”

Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La.): Georgia vs. Texas

DeWalt: “Both of the programs are very consistent in their brand strategy and messaging, but I have to give the nod to the UT because they are mixing in a bit of everything right now, from content about their graduates to players getting invites to the Senior Bowl and current NFL players. They are taking advantage of the branding opportunities right now.”

READ MORE: Inside the Meteoric Rise of College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Texas. Historically, Texas has had a bigger brand than the Georgia Bulldogs, and part of that is due to the larger alumni base of the school, as well as the football-obsessed population in Texas. I think that Georgia definitely is one of the fastest-rising football brands, with coach Kirby Smart closely modeling successes of Alabama football, and could overtake Texas if the program continues to excel in the SEC.”

Stoney: “Matt Lange at Texas is one of the strongest designers in college football, hands down. He started incorporating a lot more white space and this sandy grit-texture style into it. It really feels like Texas, which is one of the most iconic brands in all of sports. Matt and his whole team on the design/digital side have just done a phenomenal job.”

Blosat: “Texas over Georgia. Probably the closest matchup in terms of brand vs. brand. They’re always back, year after year, and will never not be in the news. Landing the Player of the Year (Jake Smith) as a recruit doesn’t hurt either.”

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

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NHL Keeps Running On Dunkin’ With New Deal

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership.

Ian Thomas

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NHL Dunkin' Deal
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dunkin’ has signed a multi-year extension of its deal with the NHL, continuing its position as the official coffee, donut and breakfast sandwich of the league in the U.S.

The deal, expected to be announced tonight prior to game five of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston, marks the twelfth major partner that the NHL has signed or renewed its deal with in recent months.

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership. Over the course of the last two seasons, the partnership has seen Dunkin’ become one of the NHL’s most active corporate sponsors in terms of its presence at major NHL events, partnerships with local teams, marketing campaigns and other fan-facing efforts.

READ MORE: Following NBA’s Lead, NHL Taps Massive Chinese Market for Fans

NHL Group Vice President of Partnership Marketing Evin Dobson said that since becoming a sponsor, Dunkin’ has ranked at the top or in the top three of the league’s internal metrics regarding fan awareness or engagement of its partners.

Dunkin’ has been front and center this Stanley Cup Final as well, as its national advertising campaign starring Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak has been heavily featured during NBC’s television coverage of the playoffs. The campaign was created by BBDO Worldwide, which was named Dunkin’s new agency of record in April 2018.

“When you have an advertising campaign that even the broadcast talent is talking about on-air, you know you’re creating great fan engagement with what you’re doing,” Dobson said.

Tom Manchester, Dunkin’ U.S. senior vice president of integrated marketing, said much of the deal with the league will be similar to how its current deal is structured – it will continue to hold exclusive rights in those U.S. categories, it will activate around the partnership at NHL league events and it will have a presence across broadcast, digital and social media channels throughout the season, which includes a multi-million dollar partnership with NBC Sports for custom in-game features during games. Dunkin’ will also activate alongside the NHL’s esports tournament, the NHL Gaming World Championship, which will hold its final in Las Vegas later this month.

However, the new deal will see Dunkin’ adding two new local team partnerships in the deal, with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Vegas Golden Knights. Dunkin’ now has 15 NHL team-level deals.

READ MORE: NHL Turns to Corner Ice Placements to Grow On-Ice Ad Revenue

Dunkin’ will also launch a new activation around the league deal ahead of next season, Manchester said, declining to comment further as those plans have only just started.

“Over these last two years, the idea that coffee and espresso is a big part of the hockey world and hockey family’s lives has only been reinforced for us,” Manchester said.

Dunkin’s NHL deal also serves as “the centerpiece” of that outreach to hockey families, Manchester said.

In addition to its league-level NHL deal in 2017, Dunkin’ has also made additional investments into hockey, signing a deal with USA Hockey in 2016 as well as the NWHL in 2015, becoming the women’s league first corporate sponsor.

While both of those deals have since lapsed, Manchester said that on the NWHL front, the company is in talks with the league about renewing it. He noted that Dunkin’ views “women’s hockey as just as important as men’s.”

However, Dunkin’ is not planning on more broadly renewing its partnership with the U.S. governing body. Manchester said that while Dunkin’ had activated heavily around the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team and players like Meghan Duggan during the 2018 Winter Olympics, it had nothing in place with USA Hockey at the moment – although he said Dunkin’ could potentially do something around the team or its players heading into the next Olympic cycle in 2022.

Both Dobson and Manchester declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal, other to say the multi-year deal’s investment level is in line with the previous deal. Fenway Sports Management, who is Dunkin’s sports marketing agency of record, negotiated the deal on behalf of the company.

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Concacaf Unveils First-Ever Women’s Soccer Plan

In August, Concacaf appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

Ian Thomas

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women's soccer
Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Concacaf has rolled out its first-ever strategic plan to grow and develop the game of women’s soccer.

In August, the confederation appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, who presented the plan in Paris this week to all confederation’s 41 members that includes all of the soccer federations across North and Central America and the Caribbean, said that even with two of the top five ranked women’s soccer teams globally coming from this region in the U.S. and Canadian national teams, there is still an opportunity to do even better.

“The mission we’ve set out on is to improve the lives of women and girls throughout our region through the sport,” LeBlanc said. “We need to change perceptions, grow participation and build a sustainable foundation so that we can do just that.”

Concacaf has designed its strategy to grow the sport of women’s soccer around three main pillars – communicating the importance of women’s soccer and advocating for key issues affecting women, development of the sport and creating pathways to develop and empower players both on and off the field, and through commercial means that will build a self-sustainable growth model for the sport.

LeBlanc said Concacaf’s vision for growing the game somewhat mirrors FIFA’s, who launched its own first-ever global strategy for women’s soccer in October. FIFA is holding a two-day women’s soccer summit in Paris, featuring executives and federation officials from across the globe aiming to “make the most of this new era of women’s football,” which FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in his opening remarks at the summit on Wednesday morning.

Other goals for 2019 set by Concacaf include leveraging the hopeful success of the region’s national teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, creating a women’s coaching mentorship program and develop a commercial strategy around the confederation’s women’s soccer brand, which is called Concacaf W.

“We believe we can hit some of these targets very quickly, but it was important to create something like this plan so that everyone is on the same page,” LeBlanc said. “We all agree it is critical that we create growth and opportunity for women in the sport.”

LeBlanc said some of the long term goals include creating new women’s soccer competitions across the region, assisting in the creation of women’s soccer-specific digital and social channels for all the federations to help inspire fans, and encouraging the launch of more women’s clubs across the region.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

“From our standpoint, we are looking at ways to influence clubs to take a leap of faith and if they already have a men’s team, to also have a women’s team,” LeBlanc said. “Our goal is to change the mindset that women’s football is just a cause.

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MLSPA and REP Worldwide Teaming Up to Promote MLS Players

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

Ian Thomas

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MLS players group licensing rights
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, according to industry sources, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

The PA had reclaimed those group licensing rights in the league’s first CBA in 2004, but had since licensed them back directly to the league. In the past, MLS has marketed the rights for both the league and the PA, with proceeds of licensing deals split on a percentage basis that varied by category. Now – the PA will take a more direct management in the marketing and administration of those rights, with REP Worldwide as its exclusive partner and advisor.

REP Worldwide – an acronym for Representing Every Player – was launched in 2017 as a first-of-its-kind group licensing representation business offering licensing and brand management services to athlete-driven sports properties. The NFLPA is the majority shareholder of the company, working in collaboration with its founding partners the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA).

This new partnership will see REP Worldwide structure and manage MLSPA licensing partnerships on behalf of the MLS player pool across categories that include digital, apparel, experiential and hard goods, which typically includes things like toys and sports equipment. those MLS group licensing rights cover instances where four or more players appear on a single product or within a brand or product line. That can include the usage of their names, numbers and likenesses, but not team names or logos – rights held by the league.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

The aim for the MLSPA is that this new arrangement will not only open new revenue for the MLS player pool, but also serve as a brand builder for all of the players, collectively and individually.

All of the other player associations in the major North American professional sports have control over their group licensing rights, with the NBPA being the last to do so in 2017.

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